Shortly after I posted about joy in community I was hit by a huge, serendipitous realization: creating a community is exactly in line with the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I’ve written endlessly about the Dalai Lama, and I’ve always reiterated his teaching that inner peace and happiness come by being compassionate for others. I’ve always agreed with the Dalai Lama’s teaching. However, I don’t think I’ve understood how it played a part in my technology-driven life until now.
Creating a software product that enables an individual to be a part of something bigger, connecting them to others centered around the same product, is being compassionate. Seeing the joy you bring your established community will relentless bring you closer to an undisputed inner happiness. This is my purpose, the merging of technology and happiness, the enabling of an individual to connect with others in a product-centered community, to find happiness and excitement in that community and surrounding product.
Last Sunday OneUpMe was mentioned on the CBS Sunday morning news, both on television and their website. As you could probably guess the site went down immediately and remained down for a while. But what happened next was truly touching. OneUpMe was built almost entirely by Eric. (I do some sysadmin work and batch/asynchronous processing around scoring and trending.) Prior to Sunday’s press OneUpMe had developed quite a strong community of regular, very skilled members, each very grateful for Eric’s effort to build a fun website. The Monday following Sunday’s press was Eric’s birthday. And on his birthday many of the regular members made him a video, each introducing themselves and sharing a clever, funny story or play on words.
Eric was moved to say the least. I saw him that evening and he was still high from the joy the OneUpMe community had brought him. Words can’t describe the look on his face. And this morning I read Fred Wilson’s reaction to a request he made for desired blog topics. Fred’s reaction was “simply [amazed].” Eric and Fred have made me realize that there’s joy in community.
Eric and Fred have built a community of people that are passionate about a certain topic, where members feel a sense of worth and purpose among the group. These communities have brought joy to their respective leaders. And I’ll bet that joy in community is very sustainable. As long as the mediums by which the community interact–word playing and startup discussion in this case–are sustained, the community will sustain, and so will be the happiness inspired by said communities.
I would argue that creating a community that instills a sense of purpose will bring happiness more so than an impressive buyout or liquidation. A big payoff will bring immediate excitement to its recipients–”HOLY SHIT I’M RICH”–but after the boats and vacation homes have been purchased the recently rich will long for their next million, ultimately burying their dreams and hopes for happiness in their dwindling pile of money. So when you’re thinking about why you come to work every day, find the community that you’re enabling and realize you’re providing a wonderful service that brings joy, a sense of worth and purpose, and, really, an online home to everyone involved. That’s way more awesome than a boat that will get dirty or a house that sits vacant for most of the year.
I switched to marketing to learn. And learn I have! I just concluded a marketing advice series on the Atlassian blog meant for startups and small teams. If anything this series was a great excuse for me to interview the Atlassian marketing team and synthesize those interviews into advice for engineers. So if you’re an engineer and interested in learning about marketing, read my conclusion post that wraps up all the advice I’ve written about marketing for engineers and startups.
Working in marketing has opened my eyes to the way we latch onto fun advertising, charismatic presentations, and any other form of marketing. When I find myself dissecting brilliant marketing–advertisements, presentations, websites, whatever–I find the anatomy is always a compelling, relatable story. Sure, charisma, design, and humor play a big part, too. But what matters more is the story. Stories engage us, they make us forget about our current state, taking us away from the current moment and into a new place where our imagination can take us into the moment of the story.
Communicate and market by telling a story. Make it compelling. Make it relatable. Make it engaging. Use humor, charisma, design, and anything else as tools. Interact with the audience, asking if they’ve experienced parts of your stories. But always tell a story. Your audience will always want to know what happens next.
A large factor for a successful phone is the quality and quantity of applications. When I switched from iPhone to Android I was annoyed by the lack of quality in so many applications, and still today I’m annoyed that Instapaper and other apps don’t support Android. Furthermore, you can see the importance of applications in the advertising around Android. Tons of providers and phone makers taunt Android’s app marketplace. However, what’s not as obvious to consumers is the ecosystem that is built around mobile applications. Mobile applications have the opportunity to make lots of money through advertisements and purchases, and tons of companies are being funded to build and grow mobile applications. The ecosystem created by a mobile app store is much more tied to a mobile platform’s success than the applications. As long as innovative, smart, game changing developers are working on a mobile platform, that platform will continue to gain consumer adoption on so many different levels. You see Apple advertising awesome applications like Redfin. You see mobile applications marketing themselves, talking about how they support Android, iPhone, iPad, etc. And you see big players like Amazon marketing their support as well. All of this marketing, largely in the form of advertising, further engrains a platform into the consumer’s mind.
The problem with the Windows Phone lies in the barrier to entry around becoming a part of their ecosystem. All the cool kids these days develop on Linux and Mac, in languages that Microsoft doesn’t support. And the cool kids are the leading drivers of innovation in the mobile application space. Sure, companies like Amazon are building cool things in the mobile space. But most innovation comes from the little guy. And at least in Silicon Valley, the little guy doesn’t use or develop on Windows. I’m having a hard time thinking of a single person I know who actually developers on Windows. Some of my friends use Windows for gaming and other basic functions, but they develop on their Mac laptop, or in a Linux VM. Honestly I can’t think of a single person I know, in Seattle, Silicon Valley, or wherever, who develops on Windows.
Microsoft Visual Studio, the IDE of choice for all things Microsoft development, is actually an insanely powerful tool. Studio’s debugging is wildly better than any other debugger I’ve seen. But Microsoft development just isn’t cool. It’s not where innovative people will spend their time. And for this reason the Microsoft application ecosystem will stagnate. Microsoft will be alone in their battle to win over the consumer, and they will fail by themselves when they’re up against Apple and Android.
(Sorry to all my Microsoft friends for being such a downer.)
I spend a lot of my time thinking about corporate culture, and I have some radically odd ideas that I’m confident at least a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would disagree with. This post starts a series of posts I intend to write, all focussing on a culture that I’ve dubbed “Selfless.” Disclaimer: all of what you’re about to read is theory; I’ve yet to start a company. And frankly I’ve never been in a board meeting, incorporated, raised money, hired a team, or done anything other than work at and around startups (Redfin, Cloudera, Atlassian, etc.). But what I’ll argue throughout this series is that a selfless culture–one where titles and equity are formalities, where unnecessary politics are relinquished, where everyone is a leader, and where all that’s asked of employees is their best work–would be a fantastic attempt to make employees happy, encourage innovation, and create a productive work environment. Today I’ll talk about multipliers and leadership.
Multipliers is a book by Liz Wiseman that looks at two different types of leaders: diminishers, trying to provide all the answers and in doing so making everyone less productive and less empowered; and multipliers, challenging employees to do their best work, improving productivity and enabling everyone to be a thought and decision leader. I can’t tell you how much I agree with the principals in this book. Leadership is about genuinely caring for the happiness of the people around you, empowering those people to be leaders themselves, and challenging everyone to do their best thinking. Leadership is not about being smarter than everyone else, being the sole decision maker, and holding responsibility for only you and the “management” team. Holding responsibility to oneself diminishes everyone else, and really is more arrogance and ego than leadership.
Lately several friends and I have started building little personal projects here and there, anything from Shibby to Eric’s OneUpMe. Each of us approach these projects selflessly, eager to have fun turning an idea into usable software. We’re all motivated to work on these projects because they’re ours. We thought of them, we’re building them, and we get extreme satisfaction when people use them. And it’s that sense of ownership and satisfaction that breads passion and interest in us, keeping us hacking through the wee hours of the morning. Multiplying leaders instill the same sense of passion and interest in any task or challenge that a company faces. Let people be leaders, give them responsibility, give them an opportunity to fail, give them ownership, and watch them either succeed or learn from their failures. Both outcomes are good for the company in the long run. And no matter what employees will be more productive, more engaged, fully committed, and totally along for the wild ride.
I came to San Francisco to make a difference, not to become rich or famous. I don’t care for the number of Twitter followers I have, the car I drive, nor the clothing I can afford to wear. (Though I admit I do have a fewexpensive hobbies.) And most of my friends–the same ones I hack with–share my views: we’re all driven to be a part of something big, something meaningful. Something that inspires others and breads happiness within us all. And that something is more than just a product or a service, it’s a company whose values are inline with mine, whose purpose is the same as my own, whose goal is happiness wed with technology. And such a company is not lead by a single person or group of founders. Such a company is lead by every single person involved. Multiplier founders will create other multipliers, and together we’ll all feed off of one and other, making for a happy, productive, awesome work environment.
Ultimately what selfless, multiplying leadership will do is make employees happier through responsibility. Responsibility challenges us, makes us better, gives us that rush when we succeed and that need to learn when we fail. Responsibility keeps us coming to work with a hunger to Get Shit Done, which only makes us happier and more centered around a common goal and dream. Happier employees with a sense of responsibility are more productive, more innovative, more engaged, and ready to jump into the trenches and pursue a dream to change the world. Let employees dream and let them pursue their dreams by giving them responsibility.
Walking home from the bus stop today, rain sealing an end to a long dry spell this San Francisco winter, I noticed most restaurants occupied by couples presumably on their Valentine’s Day date. A thought occurred to me: I imagine several friends are sad to be spending Valentine’s Day single.
If you find yourself sad to be alone on Valentine’s Day–or any day, really–recall all the love you’re given from other people in your life. Think about all the good deeds others have done for you recently. I expect you’ll realize you have a lot of caring people in your life, hopefully helping you cope more effectively with any loneliness you’re experiencing. But if you’re still struggling, ask yourself how you can make a difference in someone else’s life. I believe compassion is a large part of achieving a sustainable inner happiness, and perhaps your good deed may help you to find a date for next year’s Valentine’s Day ;).
(Also, mom, thanks for the two-pound box of chocolate.)
For the last few months I’ve been working in marketing at Atlassian. Prior to Atlassian I was a software engineer, consultant, trainer, and support engineer at Cloudera. A lot of my colleagues, friends, and family have asked me why I’ve decided to pursue marketing at Atlassian, so I thought I’d write about my decision.
My dream for as long as I can remember has been to start my own consumer internet company. I found my love for technology when I setup my dad’s $800 wireless access point in the early 2000s. Shortly after my introduction to home networking I built a website–hosted on geocities–for my Counter Strike (CS) clan. And shortly after the website I setup a Linux server under my dad’s office desk running a training/competition CS server for my clan. I even went to Fry’s and purchased the professional version of Redhat for $80 after I corrupted my filesystem on Suse. For as long as I can remember I’ve had a dire passion for connecting people in their every day lives with technology, to make people happy with technology. Whether I helped my dad with a wireless network, hosted (now hilarious) content for a CS clan, or ran a game service that people could connect to and play on, I’ve always loved seeing ordinary people use my work.
Throughout high school and college I built little web apps that ultimately didn’t see the usage and adoption I had dreamed they’d have. I learned a tremendous amount from these little failures, but still my passions were unsettled, my dreams unrealized. The lecturer and mentor I was a teacher’s assistant for in college, Stuart Reges, recommended that I take an internship at a startup. So through the UW CSE career fair I serendipitously met Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s CEO, and started an internship the following summer as a product manager. I remember my discussion with Glenn like it happened yesterday. I felt like I found my place in the world. And still, Glenn, whether he realizes it or not, has been a huge source of motivation and influence in my life. I really did find my place in the world that day at the career fair.
Anyway, Redfin opened my eyes to the web startup world, showing me where my skills could be applied, and how practices such as engineering, product management, and marketing all contribute to one living organism. I loved product management and I loved Redfin, but Seattle wasn’t my city, and I was eager to grow my technical skills.
I took a software engineering internship with Christophe Bisciglia, who at the time was working at Google in Shanghai. Shortly after my start in China, I had visa issues and Christophe was founding Cloudera. I followed him to Cloudera, joining as the third employee. I started in engineering at Cloudera, and eventually I became the first official support engineer/consultant/trainer/customer service dude. With the help of Cloudera’s wicked smart engineering team, most notably Philip, Todd, and Aaron, the three I worked most closely with, I grew my technical skills.
Shortly after I moved to San Francisco from Shanghai, Glenn introduced me to Jay Simons, Atlassian’s VP of Sales and Marketing. Jay and I have been cycling together ever since that introduction. And per Glenn’s advice, I still yell at Jay, “I’m comin’ for ya!” whenever he’s ahead of me on a climb, which at this point is more or less always. I’ll get him, though. Glenn always encouraged me to go into product marketing, because he believed the skills required to start a company are learned in product management and product marketing. I heard of a product marketing job at Atlassian and was immediately interested, mostly guided by Glenn’s advice.
I’m pursuing marketing because, paired with my engineering, product management, and customer service skills, I’ll eventually have a well-rounded skill set enabling me to start a tech company and realize my dream. Sure, these skills aren’t totally necessary to get started, but I believe I’ll be better off with them than without. I’m at Atlassian because their marketing team is truly brilliant, driving wildly high sales numbers without a single salesperson. Not to mention, Atlassian’s corporate culture is phenomenal, and I’m very happy coming to work every day.
Already I feel more capable of building products that will see adoption, and already I’ve built a web app that is more popular than any I’ve built, Shibby. I believe consumer web and mobile startups prove their worth, at least to the venture community, with their user base. And I’m confident that my decision to pursue marketing has brought me one step closer to my tech startup dream. Now if only I had an idea …
Instagram pivoted before they even launched, meaning they changed their product focus
Instagram, an iPhone application and backing web service, just closed $7m in a series A
Initially I was somewhat amused by the latter two bullets–an iPhone app has a CEO, funding, and is already using Big Boy Business lingo, pivot. Instagram started as a fun little app, just like my friend Eric’s popular wordplay game, OneUpMe, and my little friend mapper, Shibby. The only real difference between Instagram and other apps like OneUpMe and Shibby is the user base. Instagram has a shit load of users, OneUpMe has a lot of users, and Shibby has a few users. Sure, there are obvious product distinctions, both in purpose and engagement, but I argue the real difference is the user base. Read on …
I originally asked myself why Instagram is already so serious. I envisioned myself as the creator of Instgram, and I laughed at the thought of calling myself a CEO. But then I pictured the $7,000,000 check. ”7″ followed by 6 zeros and preceded with a dollar sign is serious.
I’m on the lookout for a consumer web/mobile idea worth pursuing, and what I’ve realized is the difference between a personal project and a true business, complete with a CEO and money in the bank, is engaged users. To succeed in the consumer web/mobile space, at least from a funding point of view, you need users. That’s it. Get users and you’ll be transitioned from a little guy or girl with an idea to a CEO with money, office space, and an opportunity to change the world. Congratulations to Kevin and Instagram!
Last week was the best week of my life. My dad and I spent the week at the CMH Galena lodge, where we had perhaps the best heli-skiing and heli-boarding experience imaginable. Seriously, I want to cry tears of joy and excitement just thinking about it. I’ll start with a highlight video I made, followed by the story, and conclude with my photos. Fuckin’ A I need to do this again.
The trip started Friday night. My dad and I flew into Calgary and stayed the night at a nearby hotel. The CMH busses left Saturday morning at 6:00am, each en route to its respective lodge, ours headed towards Galena, an area just south of Revelstoke, British Columbia. We were accompanied by several of my dad’s friends and lots of other CMH customers, to make a total of 44 boarders and skiers.
The bus dropped us off at the snowy helipad sometime around 2:00pm. The helicopter shuttled all of us to the lodge, along with our luggage, 12 or so people at a time. Around 4:00pm we were all at the lodge, a beautiful, quant place only accessible by helicopter and snowmobile during the winter months. Before sunset we all had our snow gear on while we attended a snow safety course explaining the use of avalanche transceivers, probes, the helicopters, and everything else.
Sunday was the first of six and a half days of untracked, seemingly endless tree skiing/boarding. Each full day was more or less the same. My dad would wake me up at 6:45am for a 7:00am stretch class lead by my dad’s 75-year-old friend, Dick. After stretch class I’d return to the room, shower, and read a little. At 8:00am we’d all eat breakfast prepared by the awesome CMH chefs. And the first 11-person group of skiers and boarders would leave at 9:00am.
For the next three-to-four hours we’d ski and board untracked, deep powder on steep and interesting gladed tree pitches. Each group of 11 is joined by at least one guide. The guides know the terrain so well they’re able to make sure we get the best line every time. They’d often point out cliffs, pillows, and mushrooms that they knew I’d be interested in hucking.
Sometime between 12:00 and 1:00pm the second helicopter would bring the 44 of us lunch, which was usually composed of awesome sandwiches, chocolates, cookies, soup, and bars. Then, after a short lunch we’d return to skiing/boarding, returning back to the lodge before 5:00pm.
Upon arrival at the lodge we’d hang our gear in the drying room, which is equipped with glove, boot, jacket, and pant holders designed to help your gear dry out. I’d put my compression tights on, snack and have a beer at the bar, read a little, then join the group for dinner at 7:00pm. We’d eat, drink wine, and enjoy a (usually) leisurely dinner. Then, most nights I’d retire to my bed and be asleep at 9:00pm, completely exhausted from the day’s fun.
The second Saturday of our journey started with a half day of skiing and ended with a helicopter shuttle and a return 8-hour bus ride. We flew home from Calgary first thing Sunday morning.
The boarding was absolutely stunning. Every run I couldn’t help but laugh, hoot and holler, and scream at the top of my lungs. Lungs filled with excitement, adrenal, and pure joy. We had a particularly excellent week, with new snow, stable conditions (less avalanche danger), and only a few visibility problems due to some lower fog. In the 6.5 days we hit the hill, we descended 130,000 vertical feet of untracked tree skiing. Thousands of turns, hundreds of face shots, tens of hucked cliffs, and two busted bindings. The terrain couldn’t have been better — steep, interesting, different. I hit a few 40-foot cliffs, greeted at the bottom by soft landings.
The two best runs were Lake Avenue and No Hotties, each gladed, steep pitches through forests charred and burnt by past fires. The black, branchless trees paired with the steep pitch made for a super fast, insanely invigorating ride over and around bumps, blazing towards the beautiful valley bottom lined on the opposite side by tall, stony mountains.
Holy shit I’m speechless and can’t possibly put into words the pure passion I’m feeling as I write this. I’ll just leave you with photos. I need to do this again.